The first Kootenay Gay Pride parade took place in Nelson in 1996. Photo submitted

CHECK THIS OUT: Exceptional Canadian LGBTQ+ authors

Anne DeGrace writes about the Nelson Public Library’s selection of queer writers

By Anne DeGrace

An internet search of LGBTQ authors turned up more than 150 notable names, from Sappho to Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein to Chuck Palahniuk. I was looking for titles for a book display in the lead-up to Pride weekend and the special event we’re co-hosting tonight, an introduction to the Queer Archives. The list, as it emerged, was impressive.

It’s always a happy problem to have too many books for the size of the display space. I settled on Canadian authors of adult fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and somehow managed to squeeze them all onto the shelf. Here’s a sneak peek, and because we’re a library, I’ll list these exceptional authors alphabetically. They are:

Anthony Bidulka, Bill Bissett, Marie-Clair Blais, Carellin Brooks, Jane Byers, Farzana Doctor, Anne Cameron, Wayson Choy, Douglas Coupland, Ivan Coyote, Amber Dawn, Emma Donoghue, Timothy Findley, Brian Francis, Sky Gilbert, Catherine Hernandez, Tomson Highway, K. Linda Kivi, Anne-Marie MacDonald, Daniel MacIvor, Blaine Marchand, Daphne Marlatt, Shani Mootoo, Erin Moure, Casey Plett, Sina Queyras, Adrienne Rich, Bill Richardson, Nancy Richler, Jane Rule, Gregory Scofield, Shyam Selvadurai, Rae Spoon, Michel Tremblay, Karen Tulchinsky, David Watmough, Zoe Whittal, Marnie Woodrow, and Rita Wong. If I’ve missed any Canadian LGBTQ+ authors that you know are on our shelves, feel free to add them to the display.

I’ve been at the library more than 30 years, and I have seen sensibilities change. Libraries are all about egalitarian access to voices of all kinds, and our holdings reflect this — and yet, you might not have seen a display such as the one we have now back in 1967, when then-Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau declared that “There is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,” in his bid to decriminalize homosexuality.

Decriminalization was still a long way from acceptance. The first Gay Pride march happened in 1970 in the U.S. a year after the Stonewall riots following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York. Protests for gay rights took place in Ottawa the following year, but Pride parades waited until 1979, when Montreal and Vancouver became the first cities to official host a festival. Other cities would follow; Nelson’s first Pride parade took to Baker Street in 1996, and it wasn’t without controversy. Now, it’s a much-anticipated annual event, with folks of all stripes marching or cheering — a prideful moment for us all.

Today I am tremendously proud of the breadth and depth of the library’s holdings, including this collection, which is interfiled in our stacks just as Queer Canadians are interfiled in our communities — an essential part of our cultural fabric. That we can celebrate openly with our friends, neighbours, and loved ones is testament to the tenacity of those with voices that would not be quiet. Now, we know that queer history is an important part of the greater collective history — and that should be of interest to everyone in our communities, regardless of how we identify.

Enter the Queer Archives Pop-up Event at the library, a treasure-trove of LGBTQ artifacts and ephemera from the Kootenays and beyond. Tonight at 7 p.m. is your chance, Nelson and area, to learn about the evolution of a movement. Archive-holder Michael Wicks will offer a talk about the archives’ content followed by a scavenger hunt through the displayed materials — fascinating fun for everyone.

I think about those authors of the past for whom sexuality was, by necessity, a secret. Not every writer is out of the closet today, and there remain places in the world where to do so would endanger life. And so voices that champion acceptance must also, by necessity, continue. The library is a happy player in bringing those voices to you.

Anne DeGrace is the adult services co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.

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